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The Abenaki and the European Settlement of Maine
Over four hundred years ago, a French party of sailors, including notable Samuel de Champlain, became the first European explorers to set foot in what is now Maine. The year was 1604 when the French explorers arrived and created the first European settlement on the coast of Maine. Upon arrival at the vast, unforgiving wilderness of Maine, the French settlers named the uncharted territory Acadia. The platoon of sailors explored the interior of Maine, however, shortly after their settlement was established, it ended due to the harsh winters of the far north.
Although the French failed in their attempts to settle the coast of Maine, English settlers, part of the Plymouth Company, achieved the seemingly unreachable goat in 1607. The establishment of Popham Plantation at the mouth of the Kennebec River marks the site of the first English Settlement in Maine. Unfortunately for the colonists, the harsh Maine winters forced them to retreat back to England.
Samuel de Champlain was the first white man to visit the Abenaki Indians, one of the strongest groups of Native Americans in Maine. In 1604, the year of his first visit to Maine, Champlain met with several bands of Abenaki and created strong relationships between the French and the Native Americans of Maine. Fur trade, the number one industry of European colonization, was the basis of the positive relations that the French had amongst Native Americans.
While the French had a strong bond with the Natives, English settlers of the Plymouth Company were not so fortunate in their colonization. During the years of the English settlement of Maine, the Abenaki were successful in driving them off their lands for many years. Unfortunately for the Abenaki People, the English eventually became successful in their attempts to colonize the southern region of Maine in the years to come.
Flourishing from prosperous trade with the French, the Penobscot, a branch of the Abenaki, began to command the other tribes of the Abenaki to the south and the west. Commanded by Sachem Bashaba, the Penobscot formed an extremely powerful alliance, thus threatening the Micmac Tribe across the bay. Tensions between the Native Americans escalated into the Tarrateen War between the Penobscot Confederacy led by Bashaba and the Micmac and their Maliseet allies. The war continued between the two alliances of Native Americans, and after eight long years of fighting, in 1615, the Micmac successfully captured and killed Penobscot Sachem Bashaba and thus, won the Tarrateen War.
In the year 1616, a deadly disease known as smallpox devastated Native American civilizations along the northeastern coast of America. European settlers whom they fur traded with in the early years of the 1600's brought the epidemic onto the Natives. The fatal plague wiped out over 75% of the Native American population along the New England coast. European settlers were immune to the disease because of the plague that struck Europe several hundred years earlier know as the Bubonic Plague.
After their time fur trading in the early 1600's the French discovered a booming source of fur at the St. Lawrence Valley, and eventually abandoned most of their posts in the mid-coast region of Maine. While the French and Abenaki relations were nearly over, the English were just beginning. The first encounter between the Abenaki Native Americans and the English colonists occurred during an unsuccessful attempt by the Plymouth Company to establish a colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River in 1607. Although in previous occurrences the Abenaki and English colonists clashed, they eventually became strong allies in the year 1621. Samoset, a Pemiquad Sachem from Maine, hunting in Massachusetts, walked into the Plymouth Colony, and astonished the Colonists when he greeted them in perfect English, “Hello Englishmen.”
By the year 1637, the Abenaki had become equipped with the European musket, the first firearm in the Americas. Subsequently, the Pennacook Native Americans set up an English trading post along the Merrimack. Despite the recently brought forth trading post, most Abenaki Natives were forced to travel great distances in order to trade with the Englishmen.
Throughout the 1640's trading grounds shifted between the French and the Abenaki. To trade fur and other goods with the French in Quebec, the Abenaki had to leave Maine and cross through and area controlled by the Montagnais, who often times were hostile and charged tolls for passage. Reactions varied between groups of the Abenaki, with much of the Eastern Abenaki tribes coming to terms with the Montagnais. However, by 1642, the Sokoki tribe joined an alliance with the Mahican and Mohawk Tribes against the Montagnais. The fighting continued between the two alliances until 1650 and oddly enough, the war renewed French interest in the Abenaki Native Americans. Peace was eventually arranged between the Eastern Abenaki and the Montagnais.
While the war between the Eastern Abenaki and the Montagnais had ended, another Native American War was created in the process of peace making. The war that had been created consisted of the Huron against the largest group of Native Americans in North America, the Iroquois Nation. The Iroquois overran the Huron in the winter of 1648-1649 thus, the Huron gathered every possible ally against the Iroquois Nation. The French and the Sokoki, along with the Eastern Abenaki joined forces yet, the Iroquois Nation continually won the battles of the Native American war. Peace was arranged between the two groups in 1664, but Mohawk Native Americans were still attacking the Abenaki and Penobscot in Maine because of their affiliation with the Montagnais. Fighting continued until peace treaties were signed amongst the Natives, with the help of the Governor of New York.
Native Americans and European Settlers may have clashed at times; however, alliances between the two groups helped form the basis of the United States of America. Without Native Americans, our lifestyle would be completely opposite, and colonization of the Americas may have been impossible. Americans owe a great deal to the Indians, and could not have successfully built a nation without their help.
Native American History in Maine
Out of all Maine residents, the Native Americans have the longest, most interesting and complex past. Most people aren't familiar with or recognize how hard life was for these Native Americans. Most people aren't aware of how Native Americans came to be in Maine, or where they're living today.
The beginning of Native American history was discovered by studying archeological evidence. The archeological evidence suggests their history began between 11,000 and 26,000 years ago. They traveled from Asia to North America during the last Ice Age over an exposed land bridge called Berringia. However, the oral tradition and beliefs of the Wabanaki, a Native American tribe in Maine, disagrees with this archeological evidence. Their beliefs say that they've lived on the land forever and the supernatural hero Gluskap created them. The stories said that Gluskap shot an arrow into an ash tree and from the bark came the first man and woman. These are the two different ways people wiew the beginning of Native American history.
The first Native Americans migrated to Maine around 10,000 B.C. these first Maine Native Americans were called the Paleo-Indians. They were believed to have come to Maine following the migration of large animals like the wooly mammoth across the tundra landscape. But as Maine grew warmer after the Ice Age and changed from tundra to forest, the Paleo-Indians began disappearing. The next tribe to inhabit Maine was the Red Paint People. The Red Paint People were an advanced group of Native Americans. Archeologists found swords from swordfish at an archeology site on New Haven Island that date back to the time of the Red Paint People. This suggests that they were able to build boats large enough to go deep-sea fishing and catch these fish. As time went on, the Wabanaki started to show up in Maine. It is believed that the Wabanaki were descendents of the Red Paint People.
During the 1500's the Wabanaki had their first clearly documented contact with outsiders, the Europeans. Giovanni da Verrazzano was an Italian explorer sailing for the King of France in 1524; he was the first clearly documented European to encounter the Wabanaki. They traded with each other for a while until it ended when the Wabanaki greatly insulted Europeans during trading. This left a bad first impression for the Wabanaki and greatly insulted Europeans during trading. This left a bad first impression for the Wabanaki and this was how it came to be called “land of the bad people” from Verrazzano's perspective. In the year 1604, nobleman Sieur de Monts and explorer Samuel de Champlain, both of France, left for the new world in hopes of creating a successful colony. When they got to Maine they named the new land Acadia. They finally settled on St. Croix Island up the St. Croix River. Soon after settling, Champlain left with two Wabanaki guides to map out the coast of Maine. He soon established an alliance with Bessabez, a Wabanaki lead sakom in the region of Mawooshen. However, not all Wabanaki – European relations ended up as well as Champlain's. George Waymouth was the first Englishman to come in contact with the Wabanaki. When he arrived in 1605 to colonize, he didn't completely trust the Wabanaki. While trading with the Wabanaki he ambushed and kidnapped five Wabanaki men, one of which was a Wabanaki Chief named Nahanada. This didn't start a good relationship between the Wabanaki and the English. He went back to Europe and sold them into slavery to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Sir John Popham. Soon after, John Popham brought Nahanada back to his land, and Popham colonized here. However, their colony didn't last long due to the harsh Maine winter.
After these first explorers charted the New World, more settlers came from both England and Frances to set up colonies. The Europeans began trades with the Wabanaki for beaver furs and in return the Europeans gave the Wabanaki important commodities. Among the commodities were muskets, alcohol, fabrics and food. The alcohol from the trading caused alcoholism that created confusion and conflict among the Wabanaki. The fur trade made the Native Americans dependent on trading for food because they spent so much time trapping and not hunting for themselves. The Native Americans were so dependent on fur trade that it pushed them to poach beaver on other tribes land causing conflict among different tribes. Also the big wave of Europeans didn't just bring trade, they also brought European disease. Among these diseases were small pox, chicken pox, hepatitis, influenza and measles. In 1616-1619 these diseases caused an epidemic killing 75% of the Wabanaki people. The massive epidemic known as the “Great Dying” left many Wabanaki Villages completely abandoned.
Throughout the 1600 and 1700's the Wabanaki got in many disputes with the English about land. The English believed the land was theirs permanently. However, the Wabanaki believed that the land didn't belong to anyone and they were just there to watch over it. This dispute caused many raids and battles between the Wabanaki and English. Furthermore, with the French and English fighting over land boundaries, the Wabanaki were caught in the middle and were force to take a side. Of course they chose the French because they were in an alliance with the French and they were not trying to force the Wabanaki off of the their land. The French and Indian War was the last war that the Wabanaki ever had with the English.
When the United States finally separated from England and became an independent nation, the Native Americans began to live amongst everyone else. The main reason for this was because they had nowhere else to live because most of their land had been sold away in auctions. For some Wabanaki that wanted to continue the practices of their ancestors, there were reservations and small communities set up for them on ancestral land. In present day, there are five small Wabanaki communities in Maine. They're located in Presque Isle, Houlton, Indian Island, Indian Township and Pleasant Point. These communities have their own cultural centers, Tribal governments and schools. The Wabanaki culture will live on for years to come through their descendents even after all they went through. What ever doesn't destroy this culture simply make the bond between the Wabanaki stronger.
Cole, Lelah. “Wabanaki History – a Timeline. Abbe Museum. November 1, 2009 http://www.abbemuseum.org/pages/wabanaki/wabanaki-timeline.html
Hassinger, Amy. Finding Katahdin.Orono: University of Maine Press, 2001.
Kim, Young. “Where Did the American Indians Come From?” Ohmy News. October 30, 2009
Sky-McIlvain, Elizabeth. “Wabanaki Studies: A Teaching Timeline”. Least Tern. November 2, 2009 http://www.leasttern.com/Wabanaki/Lessons/Timelines/TeachingTimeline.html
The Wabanaki Culture
The known activity of humans in Maine dates back 12,000 years ago. The first groups of Natives in Maine were the Paleo-Indians dating back from 11,500 B.P. to 10,000 B.P. B.P. standing for before present. Then there was the Early Archaic period from 10,000 B.P. to 7,500 B.P. and after that was the Middle Archaic period which was from 7,500 B.P. to 6,000 B.P. then the Late Archaic period from 6,000 B.P. to 3,000 B.P. The last was Ceramic Period. To this day archeologists are still finding artifacts from this different time periods. This will tell you about archeology but before that it discusses how the Wabanaki lived before the Europeans came to colonize and eventually destroyed the Wabanaki's civilization.
The Wabanaki make up a group of cultures native to Maine and the Canadian Maritime provinces. There are five tribes that make up the Wabanaki group. They are the Maliseet, Micmac, Pasamaquoddy, Penobscot and Abenaki tribes. Families among the tribes lived in wigwams which were cone shaped homes make of birch bark and animal hide. They also used clothes made of animal's hides and fur and also made bedding out of animal fur to keep warm. The moose was one of the major animals they used for food, clothing and bedding.
To survive, the Wabanaki hunted and fished for food. They used bow and arrow to hunt along with spears. The hunters hunted large animals such as moose and deer, along with smaller animals such as rabbit and squirrel. The fishermen often fished from the ocean but they also hunted salmon when they were spawning and plentiful in the rivers. Along with the hunters and fishermen there were gatherers to gather berries and herbs for medical remedies. The Wabanaki were usually very busy providing for their families. However when they wanted to pass the time they would sit around the fire telling stories. The tribal elders who where the oldest and wisest of the group would tell most of the stories.
The Wabanaki religion goes along with the story telling because religion was very much a part of it. Many of the tribe's stories featured Gluskap who was a religious figure though he was not considered a god. Many of the Gluskap stories had morals to teach children the right way to behave. For example one of the stories is about how Gluskap gets a magical bag that he can go hunting with and put all the animals in. However Gluskap becomes greedy and takes all the animals in the world. His Grandmother Woodchuck scolds him and tells him to return all the animals to the forests. This story taught children not to be greedy and only take what they really need.
The Wabanaki were expert crafts people. They made all their tools, homes, clothing and everything else they needed. Nowadays archeologists are finding the artifacts they left behind. These artifacts are items such as stone tools, animal bones, animal teeth, pots made of ceramic and their wigwam homes. A common site for an archeologist is a shell midden. Since the Wabanaki lived by the sea and fished a lot there were many fish bones and shells left over because the shell middens preserved them.
These were tossed aside and now thousands of years later we can study what the Wabanaki ate. Archeologists study the past to determine facts. A limitation to archeology, however is that not everything is preserved over time and some artifacts decompose over time.
Archeology is not the only way to study the past however. There is a perspective called oral tradition. In oral tradition you study the past through verbal information such as stories and songs. The Wabanaki's history was spoken rather then written. The limitations of oral history are that it is difficult to date the year a story came from. Also stories can change over time so the information may not be correct. Nevertheless these are both great ways to study the past.
By studying with different views of the past we can learn a lot. We can learn about Wabanaki artifacts and about their stories and songs. We should know more about the first people to live on this land. We can't stop here however. We must keep learning and discovering. From right now to the future we must discover the way of life that was the Wabanaki.
Hassinger, Amy. Finding Katahdin. Orono, Maine : The University of Maine Press, 2001.
“Wabanki History a Timeline.” http://www.abbemuseum.org Ed Lelah Cole. 2008-2009. Abbe Museum 4 Nov 2010. http://www.abbemuseum.org/pages/wabanaki/wabanaki-timeline.html
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